The Coen Brothers Man Up

The Coen Brothers Man Up (photo)

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“A Serious Man” marks Ethan and Joel Coen’s return not only to the Midwest for the first time since “Fargo,” but to an era they know well from growing up in Minnesota’s St. Louis Park during the 1960s. As a New Yorker profile of local son Senator Al Franken recently noted, the heavily Jewish suburb has given birth to a generation of such acute thinkers as the Coens and Thomas Friedman. Yet when we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a harried physics professor at the local college, he is a man utterly bereft of answers.

As he faces a decision on his tenure at work, Gopnik is plagued by troubles on all fronts — his wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce, his children Danny and Sarah are selfish brats, and his brother’s (Richard Kind) prolonged stay on the family couch exacerbates matters. Even Gopnik’s rare escape from his problems in the form of gazing at a nude sunbathing neighbor (Amy Landecker) brings up moral dilemmas that he attempts to solve via the counsel of three rabbis, all of whom are more interested in digressive stories about Hebrew-inscribed teeth and parking lots than the problems of the downtrodden academic. But in his quest to talk to the revered Rabbi Marshak, the Coens’ bizarro “Wizard of Oz” becomes one of their most densely layered films to date, as well as one of the most bitingly funny, as Gopnik grapples with the pressures of his faith and his need for self-preservation. In Toronto, I had a lighthearted conversation with the Coens, who finish each other’s sentences, about how personal their latest film actually is and the weirdness of bar mitzvahs.

Between this film and your upcoming adaptation of Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” you’ve been steeped in Judaica for the past couple years. What sparked the renewed interest?

Joel Coen: “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a bit of a coincidence, actually, coming on the heels of this.

Ethan Coen: It just fell into our laps. The producer Scott Rudin had bought the rights to the book and asked us to adapt it, write a screenplay. We just read the book and liked it. But we had already written this, it was before we shot this that we agreed to do the script for that.

As someone who spent some time at a Hebrew school, I know that can be an experience some would never want to revisit.

JC: We have a little perspective on it now because we’ve been away from it for so many years, so it seemed more interesting or funny or exotic or something to revisit now that…

EC: It must be one of those things there are seven stages of…

JC: Of denial…

EC: With flight…

JC: [laughs] Yes, denial, acceptance…

EC: And one of those later stages.

JC: Rage. [laughs]

EC: Nobody goes to Hebrew school and doesn’t feel rage at some point. [laughs]

09302009_ASeriousMan2.jpgWas it the right time for this film because you have the perspective for it, or because as filmmakers you have the clout to tell this particular story the way you’d want to tell it?

JC: I think all of those things are part of it. We’re a little older. The clout to make it? That one maybe not, but maybe. We might not have considered it early on just because it would’ve seemed so iffy. On the other hand…

EC: Yeah, you’ve got to be kind of established to have done this movie. It’s really true.

JC: Although “Barton Fink” was pretty weird at the time. But we had already done a number of movies at that point, too. [“A Serious Man”] would’ve been hard to do as a first or second movie, unless you were willing to go much lower budget than we were.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.